|By Euan Wilson | Excerpted from the August 2010 Socionomist
Originally published under the title “Of Mice and Mood: Animation’s History Through a Socionomic Lens”
[Ed: With cartoons embraced by such a large swath of society—kids and their parents alike– might social mood drive the sort of cartoons that studios produce and viewers watch?
[In this two-part article, Euan Wilson makes the bold claim that social mood does indeed govern the nature of cartoon violence, color palette, and themes. Positive-mood cartoons are fun and safe for the family; negative-mood cartoons are tragic, surreal, and sexual. Here is a brief excerpt.]
The 1920s launched the age of plot and characterization for cartoons. Most historians consider Felix the Cat, the decade’s most popular cartoon star, to be the first cartoon character with a distinct personality. Cartoon critic Maurice Horn calls him “the high water mark of silent animation.”1 Felix is creative, adventurous, fun-loving, hard-working and intelligent—a bull-market hero all the way. In the 1926 classic, Two-Lip Time, Felix courts a Dutch girl. Rather than fight a rival suitor, Felix inflates the man’s pants with a tire pump and watches him float away into the clouds. It was an apt metaphor for both cat and markets; success was easy and Felix’s popularity soared through the decade.
Social mood climbed to extreme heights by the end of the 1920s, and the climate set the stage for Felix’s impish new rival, Mickey Mouse. Viewers today hardly recognize Walt Disney’s early incarnation. In Steamboat Willie (1928), Mickey is a prank-playing river hand who throttles a cat that looks quite like Felix. Ebullient audiences loved the carefree, rascally mouse.
Supercycle Wave (IV) Down: Sex, Drugs and Menace in the early 1930s
Mickey’s New Direction; Felix’s Demise
Mischievous Mickey’s run screeched to a halt with the social mood crash of 1929-1932. Suddenly, Mickey was out of step with the times, and audiences let Disney know it. In 1931, Terry Ramsaye of Motion Picture Herald wrote:
Papas and mamas, especially mamas, have spoken vigorously … about [the] devilish, naughty little mouse. … Mickey has been spanked.2
In response, Disney morphed the mouse. The 1933 short The Mad Doctor was released in the depths of depression. It left all frivolity behind. The story opens with wind, thunder, a dark stranger and Pluto’s abduction. A doctor plans a gruesome experiment: He aims to replace Pluto’s body with a chicken’s to see whether the new creature will “bark, crow or cackle.” Mickey dodges traps and undead skeletons until the doctor’s snares finally catch him. In the climax, Mickey eludes a buzz saw, only to wake up in bed and realize that the whole ordeal was a nightmare.
The post-crash plot is a major departure from Mickey’s pre-crash adventures. Nowhere does Mickey cause mischief. The antics and songs are gone, while the doctor’s menace and his castle are frighteningly real. …
In the remainder of this two-part, 12-page article, author Euan Wilson reviews the next 80 years of animation, including such famous and infamous cartoons as Betty Boop, Popeye, Pinocchio, Bambi, Tom and Jerry, The Little Mermaid, and Toy Story. He explores censored, banned, and X-rated cartoons and offers a forecast for what the coming mood should mean for the medium.
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Most economists, historians and sociologists
presume that events determine society’s mood. But socionomics hypothesizes
the opposite: that social mood regulates the character of social events. The
events of history—such as investment booms and busts, political events,
macroeconomic trends and even peace and war—are the products of a naturally
occurring pattern of social-mood fluctuation. Such events, therefore, are not
randomly distributed, as is commonly believed, but are in fact probabilistically
predictable. Socionomics also posits that the stock market is the best available
meter of a society’s aggregate mood, that news is irrelevant to social
mood, and that financial and economic decision-making are fundamentally different
in that financial decisions are motivated by the herding impulse while economic
choices are guided by supply and demand. For more information about socionomic
theory, see (1) the text, The
Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior © 1999, by Robert Prechter;
(2) the introductory documentary History's
Hidden Engine; (3) the video Toward
a New Science of Social Prediction, Prechter’s 2004 speech before
the London School of Economics in which he presents evidence to support his
socionomic hypothesis; and (4) the Socionomics Institute’s website, www.socionomics.net.
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